What is mono (mononucleosis)?
Mono, short for mononucleosis, is an infectious disease most commonly caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It is frequently spread through saliva, which is why it’s often called the “kissing disease.” However, kissing isn’t the only way you can catch the virus, which is carried through bodily fluids. It can be spread by sharing food, drink or utensils, through coughing or sneezing, from the spread of mucus from the nose or throat, through contact with blood or semen, or sometimes even through tears. In fact, mononucleosis is so common and contagious that most people are infected by the age of 40.
Mononucleosis is usually a mild illness, but some cases include more severe symptoms or serious complications. Fortunately, if you are experiencing mono symptoms, diagnosis is typically quick, and there are things you can do to manage the symptoms and help prevent the spread of the illness.
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What are the symptoms of mono?
The most common signs of mono are high fever, a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and tonsils, weakness and fatigue. Mononucleosis symptoms usually start 4 to 6 weeks after you are exposed to the virus.
While the symptoms of mono are usually not severe, serious complications can occur, especially in those with compromised immune systems. One potential complication is the swelling and enlargement of the spleen. Pain in the upper left area of your abdomen may indicate that your spleen has ruptured. If you experience this, seek medical attention immediately, as you may need emergency surgery.
Other complications can affect your liver, with conditions like hepatitis or jaundice. Your heart and nervous system may also be affected, and anemia may develop. A rash of many tiny red spots can occur, which could indicate a low platelet count or another serious condition. Medical attention should be sought if any of these symptoms arise.
How is mono diagnosed?
During your appointment, your medical provider will conduct a full physical exam and ask you about your medical history. If your symptoms are consistent with mononucleosis, a quick test can be conducted to check for evidence of the virus. The results are typically ready in under 10 minutes. Mononucleosis can only be detected by this test if you’ve had the virus for at least 7 days, but symptoms rarely develop that quickly.
Because other illnesses can present similar symptoms, your medical provider may specify additional testing. This may include a test for the flu, strep throat, or other illnesses depending on your symptoms and medical history.
How is mono treated?
If your test is positive for mono, your health care provider will counsel you on how to manage the virus and your symptoms.
Your mononucleosis treatment plan will include plenty of rest. For most people, symptoms dissipate in 2-4 weeks. Some symptoms, like fatigue, can take longer to resolve. As you begin to feel better, you can gradually return to your normal activities.
Medications are sometimes used to help manage the symptoms of the illness. You may be advised to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to alleviate your fever, sore throat, or other discomforts. A steroid called prednisone may be prescribed if you have trouble breathing or eating due to a severely sore throat.
Because of the risk for a ruptured spleen in people with active mono, you should avoid contact sports until your medical provider advises you that it’s safe to resume those activities.
How long is mono contagious?
Even after you feel better, the virus that causes mononucleosis remains in your body for life. The virus remains inactive and no longer causes symptoms, but is still able to spread to others, who can get sick. Medical researchers aren’t sure how long mono stays contagious, but some studies show that it can still be transmitted up to 18 months after symptoms have disappeared.
It’s difficult to prevent the spread of mononucleosis, but you can reduce the chance of catching it or passing it on by avoiding sharing food, drinks or cutlery with others.
Where can I get tested for mono?
If you’re feeling unwell or suspect you might have mononucleosis, you can visit one of Physicians Immediate Care’s 40+ medical clinics. Find a clinic near you and Reserve Your Time Online or walk in to see a medical provider at your convenience, any day of the week.